Help your chicks as they fly solo

News of derring-do by children abroad worries most parents. Hold your nerve, says Anne McHardy

This summer we wake up every fourth morning or so to an email from Thailand or Laos. So far our third son, Dan, who is 19 and due to start at Sussex University in October, has ridden by bus to a full moon party, returned to Bangkok by "sleeper" train, gone jungle trekking, bought a bass guitar, lodged with a barman called Joe, bought a "pretty but tacky hammock" and ordered a cashmere suit which is, he assures us, "not a Khoa San Road special" but Thai government-subsidised elegance.

He is on a gap year, travelling with friends from his north London sixth form. Since sitting his A-levels last year, he has worked to raise money, first packaging Christmas orders at the Arsenal warehouse, then collecting direct-debit sign-ups for charity.

Six summers ago we received an airmail from Namibia every fortnight with tales of elephants in the wild, horse riding through mountains on trails used by Boer settlers and being the sweated labour helping to build a village school. That was when our eldest son, James, now graduated from Manchester University, was abroad with Raleigh, the youth development charity.

Earlier that year he had been in India, travelling independently with a friend. Then, the communications we received were mostly reverse-charged calls about a motorbike accident. He came back from Namibia with what he had not told us about; a video of his sky-dive during the two weeks of travelling after the official three months trip was over.

He funded the Indian travel by working as a waiter in West End hotels and Raleigh by doing a sponsored climb of a hospital tower and door-stepping local businesses, the Rotary Club and neighbours.

He had originally planned a gap year in Eastern Europe, working as an English assistant. Then he announced that he was considering Raleigh. We thought the tough endurance weekend Raleigh puts applicants through would weed him out, but crawling through freezing mud at 3am in Oxfordshire in January made him more determined. He says that he would recommend a gap year to anyone.

Our 17-year-old daughter, who is about to start a drama BTEC national diploma, is planning a gap year in two years. She has been besotted with elephants since we took her to a circus when she was two and she wants to find a gap charity which works with elephants in Africa.

Our middle son, Peter, who has just completed an art foundation course, chose not to take an official gap year because he had had two attempts at his A-levels and felt he had idled enough. He is enjoying a summer in London, saying that most of what he wants to discover is in his home city. His passion is contact juggling (a relatively new form of juggling where balls are rolled over the hands and body instead of tossing them in the air) and he has found workshops in Brixton and Highgate.

The communications we get from abroad are fun, but being parents backing gapping kids is hard work. There is an inevitable cost, if only their keep while they raise cash. We helped sponsor our first son and lobbed in a few bob for our second son to buy hammocks, but not more, arguably, than we would have provided had they been starting work and needed suits.

But there is also emotional wear and tear, being on the receiving end of the communications from abroad has gut-twisting moments. Picturing your offspring yelling with delight as they risk life and limb nurtures parental terror.

The upside is that we believe that our offspring were much better prepared for university. Today's undergraduates are light years more sophisticated than we were. There are parents who worry that if their children take gap years, they will not go back into education. There is a part of me that worries with them but I hang on to the belief that after a year out they will make better informed decisions. Bottom line, like the parent bird pushing out the fledgling, it is self-sustaining flight that we seek.

Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
Sport
Vincenzo Nibali rides into Paris on the final stage of the 2014 Tour de France
Tour de FranceVincenzo Nibali is first Italian winner since Marco Pantani in 1998
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Sport
Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo (C) celebrates with Scuderia Ferrari's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton
sport
Arts and Entertainment
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmComedy was dominated by the romcom at its most insufferable
Sport
Tour de France competitor Bartosz Huzarski’s legs have highlighted the gruelling nature of the race, after he posted a picture on Facebook showing extremely prominent veins stretching from his feet and all the way up his legs
Commonwealth Games
Life and Style
Elle Kaye demonstrates the art of taxidermy
food + drinkFood revolution taken a step further in new ‘edible taxidermy’ class
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
Halsall broke her personal best in the 50m butterfly
Commonwealth GamesEnglish swimmer is reborn after disastrous time at London 2012
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Voices
The Express offices in the 1930s when writers (such as Orwell) were paid around £2 weekly
voicesWebsites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
A cut above: Katy Guest at The Ginger Pig
food + drinkThe Ginger Pig's hands-on approach to primary cuts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Learning Support Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Experienced Learning Sup...

Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a flexible inspira...

Graduate Accountant - Banking - Bristol - £140pd

£100 - £140 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Graduate Accountant - Banking - Bri...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried